The Sandbox Entrepreneurs’ Centre (Sandbox) is a community led initiative to reimagine entrepreneurship services in the City of Barrie and take advantage of the redevelopment of the bus terminal building at 24 Maple Avenue in downtown Barrie. A partnership of private sector organizations, the City, government agencies, and members of the entrepreneurial community banded together as the Sandbox Organization (SO) to identify gaps in the environment supporting entrepreneurs in Barrie. From this thinking came the core ideas underlying the Sandbox concept.
Impact & Main was engaged to look at the feasibility of the model suggested by the Sandbox Organization and create a business plan.
The business plan looked at all aspects of the Sandbox Entrepreneurs’ Centre. After a review of the business and entrepreneurship ecosystem in Barrie, through consultation with Barrie’s entrepreneurs and businesses, we identified four “value streams” that coincided with the gaps in the entrepreneurial “ecosystem”. These were:
- An education centre
- A collision and meeting space
- A synergy centre that brings business support organizations under one roof
- An entrepreneurship brand for Barrie
Two key audiences were identified:
- “GO” companies
- Start-ups and new small businesses
- Existing small businesses in which the business is looking to be more effective
- “GROW” companies
- Existing growth-oriented small-to large businesses wanting to go to the next stage or scale up
- Employees of GROW businesses (intrapreneurs)
The Sandbox model has four main functions: two with a city building impact and two assisting the entrepreneurs coming to the Sandbox.
- Cultural change — The City aims to create a stronger culture of entrepreneurship and growth amongst its businesses and residents. The Sandbox can play an important role generating excitement and focus for the community through its programming and the revitalized building.
- Economic development tool — The Sandbox can be a demonstration project allowing potential outside investors to see a physical manifestation of the City’s entrepreneurial spirit as well as the many services, programs, and networks that would be available to them for both business and personal growth.
- Programs and services — The Sandbox delivers a variety of formalized training through other Barrie entrepreneurial services; its own programming and special events; a networking and sharing program; and mentoring and coaching for entrepreneurs.
- The facility — The SEC property acts as the locus of the City’s entrepreneurial activity as well as acts as a central location for its programs and services
The Sandbox business plan was built on providing various services and supports:
- Sandbox acts as a bridge to other organizations and services to help entrepreneurs find the services, so they do not need to go from pillar-to-post trying to find what they need to be more successful.
- An important part of the ethos of entrepreneurial programs is the sense of give and take. Clientele make use of the Sandbox’s services but are generally expected to give back by taking part in peer networking events, mentoring others, promoting Barrie as a hub of innovation and entrepreneurship, and in some cases, providing financial support.
The Sandbox program would partner with other Barrie organizations to provide local businesses with opportunities to learn, network, and create partnerships. The Sandbox’s intended primary users; the way in which it interacts with both users and the other members of the Barrie ecosystem; and the programs and services it provides are all aimed at ensuring it complements the work of existing organizations and advances the overall aims of the community.
The feasibility study and business plan were enthusiastically accepted by the Sandbox Organization and the Sandbox Entrepreneurs’ Centre launched in April 2019.